When the pinky and ring finger on Kris Bryant’s left hand bent awkwardly on a slide into third base back on July 19, we all had two immediate reactions: “Oh crap that looked really bad,” and “how long is he gonna be out?”
Thanks to his superhuman healing powers, it turned out that the answer to that question was “not long at all,” and Bryant returned after missing just a single game.
It was great to see him come back so quickly, but now that we’ve got a little distance from the injury and some results to review, we’ve gotta ask: have there been aftereffects from the injury?
Bryant himself admitted this weekend that he still feels discomfort (Cubs.com): “It’s not a problem. It’s nagging. During the game, it feels pretty good. Before and after the game, it’s [sore]. I don’t think I came back too quick from it, but it’s something you’ve got to play through. It’s probably going to be there for another couple weeks …. When I hit the ball off the end of the bat, that’s when I feel it. It hurts way more when I squeeze the glove.”
Ultimately, Bryant sounds unconcerned, but his recent results do leave you wondering if the discomfort is showing at the plate right now.
In the 17 games since the injury, Bryant has taken 74 plate appearances and posted a .299/.338/.433 (99 wRC+) line. Far from terrible, and well within the normal range of results you’d expect to see in a 74-plate-appearance sample for even a superstar. It may well be that’s all there is to that, and all we’re seeing in the numbers is noise.
I do notice, though, that Bryant’s results during that stretch are being driven almost entirely by his .345 BABIP. His isolated slugging (an indication of power production) is just .134, barely half the .253 mark he sported before the injury. Bryant has just six extra-base hits in those 17 games.
The good news is that Bryant’s hard contact rate during this stretch is actually up (from 30.7% to 39.3%), but the bad news is that his soft contact is also way up (from 15.6% to 23.2%). Worse, his groundball rate is up considerably (from 37.7% to 44.6%), at the expense of his fly ball rate (from 44.3% to 39.3%) and his line drive rate (from 18.0% to 16.1%).
In other words, during these post-injury plate appearances, Bryant has hit the ball hard frequently, but on the ground much more than usual. And the softest of his contact, the kind that might get you a duck snort single but will never result in extra bases, is way up. The quality of Bryant’s contact during this stretch has been down considerably.
But does that actually mean anything? I don’t really think it’s fair to say after just 74 plate appearances and 17 games, though we do have to allow for the possibility given that Bryant himself described the injury as nagging.
Hopefully, as he gets further distance from the original injury, he’ll feel more and more comfortable and resume his powerful ways.